But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This is my story. From a cancer doctor with cancer...
Day 1 04/08/2016
“If I told you my story- You would hear hope that wouldn't let go.”
“If I told you my story- You would hear victory over the enemy.”
“And if I told you my story- You would hear Life overcome the grave.”
I start with these key phrases from the song, “This is my story,” by Big Daddy Weave. It was the song I heard on the way into work the day after I got the news. Yes I thought to myself- this is my story! The only person walking this exact journey in life is me. What a blessing it was to realize God could use me and my story. I also preface with this because it is MY story, but I hope it brings HIM glory.
For those of you who may not know me well my name is Julie. I’m 31 years old and I love my life. I have an incredible husband who is the best dentist in the world and the cutest, chubbiest baby boy you could imagine. I have been blessed with more life than most people dream of. I have literally traveled the world and been on over 15 medical mission trips. I have already lived to see almost half of my bucket list items checked off. Things like: become a doctor, become a mom and travel to Venice with husband on my birthday! I honestly have nothing to complain about. For the most part I have been fairly healthy. I never even needed my wisdom teeth out.
However, in the last 2 years of my life, things became a little rocky. I had a traumatic miscarriage, a miracle pregnancy less than a month later, and then a severe bout of inflammatory bowel disease (initial diagnosis). I passed 4 kidney stones while pregnant and then ended up having a c-section to welcome my son into the world. One week before having my son I had the stressful task of taking my residency boards. And 4 days after my boards one of my very best friends from high school died of inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 30. It was a devastating series of events- however my son was born in that month and I am immensely grateful to God for that perfect gift!
People used to come up to me and apologize for hearing about all that I’d been through. I’m always saying the same thing. I’m a cancer doctor- this is nothing compared to what my patients endure. Colonoscopies every 2 years- yes it sounds horrible, but at least I don’t have a terminal illness. Again, I have nothing to complain about. That was my view on life- wake up every day and feel grateful to the Lord for his many blessings- life, vision, and the ability to think clearly and work. These are some of the many things I have seen my cancer patients lose due to their illness.
So even when I had an emergency appendectomy, I remembering telling my husband-, “hunny, this is no big deal”. My patients have multiple surgeries that are much more painful and that don’t turn out as well. And that brings me to now. Why am I writing this? Simply because the Lord told me to. I couldn’t sleep one night and he told me I needed a blog. I was like, “Um, Lord, you have the wrong person. I am not a blogger.” I’ve honestly never followed one and I can count on my right hand the number of times I have read one. But if you’re walking with the Lord, you know when the Lord asks you to do something you just obey. Or He just keeps asking. We know the lesson from Jonah all too well and I’d rather blog than sit in a whale belly. So here I am!
Let me caveat by explaining I am writing this within 6 weeks of my radiation oncology graduation. I am finishing 5 years of oncology residency. Cancer is what I know and what I do. I hate the disease more than anything. But I feel I have the best job in the world and sometimes the hardest job in the world. You have the privilege of walking people through one of the toughest journeys in life. You become family to some and friends to others. It’s an honor to serve my patients and I cannot imagine anything else worth devoting my life to. It’s my passion, my calling and hopefully my gift (I say hopefully because you’d have to ask my patients to evaluate my skills ;). One of my favorite parts of the job is giving good news and watching people make their goals in life (their daughter’s wedding, son’s graduation, etc). One of the other blessings is that I come home every day with a short-sided view of life- I could die tomorrow so I should live like today is my last day. Hold my son every possible minute he’s awake and have dinner with my husband every night- these are all things that are a must in my life. I talk about death a lot at my house- in fact my husband always jokes to our friends, “don’t ask her – she’s the oncologist.” It’s true I think about these things- how I want to be cremated, how I would want a party and not a funeral. I tell my husband routinely to please remarry if I die so that my children would have a mom. It’s not uncommon either for me to talk about making my bucket list items happen now (and then my husband is like are you crazy- you want to go to Australia with a baby?) No we have 30 years to do that. So it’s a joke in our house. He asks me about his runny nose and I think he has nasopharynx cancer. His headaches lead me to push his PCP for a brain MRI because I’ve seen the 30 years old that die of GBM (glioblastoma multiforme). That is just our life ;). And then you have one of your best friends get diagnosed while pregnant with breast cancer at the young age of 29. Is that possible? For so many months I thought the sole reason I was an oncologist was to help her make decisions and explain the medical side to her brilliant engineering brain! And even when that happened I had a hard time believing someone so close to me could die of such aggressive disease. It just seemed like by being a cancer doctor, I should get a pass on cancer. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well unfortunately my GI (gastrointestinal) cells apparently didn’t know my profession and didn’t follow these rules. So at the age of 31, I now have cancer. It’s weird to write it. I don’t even like saying it- but it’s important that I do because it’s fact. I walked out of a hospital after an appendectomy thinking how grateful to God I was that he didn’t allow it to rupture. I knew that day He had saved my life and wasn’t done with me. What I didn’t know was that 2 weeks later I’d learn why. It was a routine trauma checkup appointment. The resident checked my wounds and I asked if he had seen my pathology report. I joked, “You know I see these rare appendiceal cancers and they always go horribly, so I’d feel better knowing it was fine.” He laughed- “Oh yeah, you’re young, it should be fine”. Only to pull up the path report and discover the exact opposite- there was cancer in my specimen. A lot of oncologic words that even I hadn’t seen put together. I went for the main things- what kind, what were the margins etc? However my oncologist brain went into panic mode. I started thinking of a young lady who was in her mid -20s who died of this a few months ago that we had treated. Or of another patient under treatment for this similar disease, with the same age, who was in hospice care. I couldn’t believe it. How could this be? Not me. “No way,” I thought. I forced them to double check the name on the report about ten times and I rushed out of the clinic. I didn’t know what to do or think. I knew it meant I had more doctors to see but I couldn’t even think. I just keep thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to die”. It’s a horrible feeling and something now that I can honestly say only cancer patients and those with terminal situations probably can really appreciate. I walked straight to my clinic and was a bawling mess. I called my husband and couldn’t even get the words out. It took me a while to say it to one of my dearest friends and colleagues. She didn’t even understand what I was saying because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t making sense. She immediately called our GI oncology specialist and got him on the phone. He said he’d look at everything and call me back. I hugged my husband. My sweet friend did exactly what I needed her to do… she laid her hands on me and started praying for me. It was not my finest moment. I kept saying, “I don’t want to die. I want to see my son graduate.” To say I was scared was an understatement, I knew how these went. I had seen them first hand. Painful and aggressive and potentially life-threatening. How could I even imagine walking through that? In my weakness and probably worst moment I remember even thinking to God, “As if watching my best friend suffer and die of cancer wasn’t enough?” Now here it is round two, another young person with cancer, except not just another person- it was ME. So scary. I proceeded to come up with an oncology plan with the doctors who would be taking care of me. First they needed to confirm the pathology and find out which type (I prayed for it to be a misdiagnosis!). That night we began calling all the family and friends. It seemed pointless, we had no staging information and no definite plan, and these are all the things that help people understand. I may or may not have needed more treatment. But nonetheless it started the prayer chain. That is precisely what we needed: support and prayer.
The next day I did a bunch of tests to help with staging and the plan was to discuss my case at the hospital’s GI tumor board (a meeting of professionals to review cases and come up with treatment strategies) and then see my physicians afterwards. The very tumor board I ordinarily attend weekly for my own patients cases, was the same one I now had to sit out so they could talk about me (a hard concept to swallow for sure). I spent all night reading every single article I could about this super rare type of appendix/colon cancer. My poor husband didn’t know there was so much on Pubmed for such a rare type. I’d only seen one exact case and it didn’t go well. I couldn’t use that as my guideline. Who needed sleep when you have cancer? I began worrying about my ovaries as the literature described 50% of people having ovary metastases. Now suddenly I was discovering some people recommended oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries). The news seemed to be getting more depressing as I read and I wasn’t handling it well. Thank God for my husband and his unwavering faith.
The night before all my appointments my husband texted a few people in our Bible study and asked them to pray. About 30 people showed up to our house that night in full force. What a blessing. I’ve never felt so ready to embrace the next day. I slept all night and went to my first appointment the next morning feeling VERY loved. My parents came with me, as well as my sweet husband. My oncologist explained the discussion at tumor board and confirmed that it in fact it was this rare cancer. I’m not giving the name because it’s super rare and if you read about it you’ll not like what you read or possibly even get it confused with worse types. It’s definitely on the better end of cancer types. I could list ten types instantaneously that would have little or no chance of cure. I have much better odds than that. The blessing, my oncologist said, was that it was a super small focus of cancer and it appeared as if it wasn’t anywhere else. Praise God. Then the oncologist went through all the prognostic factors. We obviously didn’t have the full staging information yet, but from what he saw everything was encouraging. It seemed it maybe the absolute best case scenario for this type. It was small, clear margins, and located in the perfect place. My bloodwork showed no evidence of residual cancer and the recommendation from tumor board was that I have the completion hemicolectomy and nodal dissection for complete staging purposes. They saw no need to take my ovaries (WAHOO!!!!!!!!) which was actually the moment I cried the hardest in all of this. My ovaries will only be taken if they look suspicious or if they find cancer somewhere else in my abdomen. Sad to admit that I was super relieved to keep my ovaries, but I couldn’t imagine my son never having a sibling. And in all my late night Googling I began reading how difficult adoption can be if you have cancer. Surely someone would give me a baby girl? My son needs a sibling!
So my big surgery is planned for tomorrow (coincidentally it’s also my husband’s birthday). I’m excited about the possibility of being cancer-free. If there is nothing else in the final pathology sections, then no chemotherapy is needed. I will be done with treatment for now and will likely not need anymore. I will have close observation as this cancer tends to hide before it shows itself (part of the reason most patients are diagnosed as stage IV). It doesn’t show up on scans well. And the more I pray about it the more I realize that the Lord saved my life with that appendicitis. They caught it as early as possible. If I wouldn’t have had that appendicitis, the cancer would have likely spread to somewhere else before they found it. It was an accidental, God-lead finding. I cannot begin to list all the miracles that I see in this. One- that my appendix came out so easily. Two- that my bowel looked perfect at time of appendectomy that they aren’t questioning rather or not I could tolerate more surgery (sometimes IBD patients can’t have surgery until bowel is all healed!) Three- I’m not pregnant (how crazy would that complicate all this)! Four- that I’m at the end of my residency and at a place where I know all the incredible physicians. Five- That I have an ARMY of incredible friends and family that have gotten down on their hands and knees for me. SIX- That I have a husband who is more than my best friend, he is super dad, and he never blinks twice about putting my needs first. I could go on and on. The Lord has been ALL over this. Each and every step. And if it wasn’t caught incidentally (by my God miracle), then let’s face it, in the oncology world- I’d be considered toast. Yes I can say that because I know it’s the truth. Peritoneal metastasis or ovarian metastasis are nearly impossible to cure. Not impossible, but difficult. The beauty of all of this is that I’m not in control. God has it all in the palm of His hands. This is His battle to fight. If He wants me on this earth, He will help cure me of the cancer. If He wants it in heaven, well then the cure will be up there. I’m okay with either (although let’s face it I definitely want to live a long wonderful life). Selfish to say but I want to see my son grow up to change the world! I want to be there for his wedding. I want to see my husband build his own dream dental practice. I want to help cancer patients for as long as possible. I don’t want to miss any of that. So for now I’m claiming the Hope of the Lord that His plan for me is good and LONG! My Hope is that I live to tell others about Him. I hope He is able to get more glory out of my life than my death. So join me in prayer for this. That the surgery goes smoothly and that there would be no more cancer! No chemotherapy and that I could live many more years. Lord - please don’t be done with me yet. I promise I will try to please you as long as I’m alive. You are my Hope that wouldn’t let go and my Salvation! And please Lord help someone to come to know you through my story. That would make every scar, every pain and every tear worth it!
Thank you to everyone who has prayed for me and encouraged me. This is the beginning of a journey and this is my story. I don't know that I will be updating daily but I will do my best to update often. Finally I want to end with my favorite part of the song I opened with. This is my prayer:
“This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.”
April 15, 2016 UPDATE
POST OP DAY 3
Again I must start with a song that my husband sent to me the day I got diagnosed. It’s by one our favorite artists Lauren Daigle.
In this one part of the song she says:
I try to win this war
I confess, my hands are weary, I need your rest
Mighty warrior, king of the fight
No matter what I face you're by my side
When you don't move the mountains
I'm needing you to move
When you don't part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When you don't give the answers
As I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.
This song so perfectly captures my initial post op journey. I had an epidural so thankfully I never was in horrible pain. However, I woke up with this horrible nausea and vomiting that wouldn’t let up. For hours it was continuous despite the doctors throwing every medication my way. The only relief I could get is if they gave me enough for me to fall asleep. To be brutally honest, it was horrible. I kept thinking back to my dear friend who had chemo for months before she passed away and how strong she was. I kept telling my mom, “I’m just not that strong.” I don’t know how my patients get through this misery time after time. I imagine the intractable nausea/vomiting I felt post-operatively is how the majority of my patients feel during their treatment. And the irony of it all- I always pray that the Lord will make me a better doctor. Well, what better way to learn then to be a patient in their shoes. All of this pain and suffering is very minute compared to what some of my patients endure. I know this will make me a better doctor, mom, wife and friend. I have a new appreciation for the small things in life- like being able to eat a small amount of jello without throwing it up, or being able to shower (it’s impossible with my drain in place).
Fortunately the song Brandon sent me last week kept replaying in my head over and over again as I was sick last night. I was so ready to stop trying to get better. I felt so miserable. I guess 3 days of vomiting will do that to you. And it didn’t help that my surgery team kept saying this isn’t normal. Most patients don’t have this problem. Well again I would say most patients don’t have cancer in their appendix so maybe it’s just me. I’m an anomaly. I do horrible with anesthesia and I’m a wimp. Thank you for validating my weakness. But it is in my weakness, that He is strong. I know God is giving me all these lessons to help refine me and strengthen me. The line in the song, “When you don’t move the mountains, I need you to move,” just kept playing over and over again in my head. Come on Lord- I would beg. Please just make the nausea/vomiting go away. I need you to move this mountain. And He wasn’t for hours and then for days. But now today it’s finally gone! Yay! And I was able to eat for the first time and even get out of bed without vomiting. God moved my mountain finally, but not before teaching me the lesson He wanted me to learn. No I’m not saying God made me sick on purpose- we all know God wanted us to have a perfect life. Sin ruined it and suffering became part of our lives. What I am saying is I knew the whole time I was sick that I had to trust in Him. I knew He was the only one to move my mountain and help me heal. Trust. It was the lesson of the week, and really the lesson for my life. I can’t help but think the next ten days waiting for the pathology to come back are going to be long. The pathology determines so much, my stage, my prognosis and my future course of treatment. But for now all I can do is trust. For now all I can do is thank God for the many incredible blessings He has given me. For example, my surgery went perfectly. I’m sure this is because of everyone praying. No ostomy bag was needed, and no NG tube! Thank God for that. Thanking Him for the fact that they didn’t “see” any cancer in my belly. That’s a major plus. I can’t imagine waking up to bad news. Again another miracle. I have seen patients who wake up with an abandoned surgery because the cancer had spread to too many places. I now can imagine their sadness and how horrible their post-op journey must be.
Also, I am so thankful that my family has literally been by my bedside every minute I’ve been in the hospital. My mom made a banner of all the Bible verses people have sent me for my hospital room. When I was sick, my family would read them to me and I would cling to them. I have never been alone. I know God is with me, but it’s sure nice to have my family and friends there to help take care of me and encourage me.
So that’s it for now. I’m still in the hospital but should be going home soon! I miss my sweet baby so much. We won’t know anything further until the pathology comes back. In the interim if you could pray that there is no more cancer found and that I heal quickly, I’d so appreciate it. Pray for my sweet husband as he’ll have to do all the lifting for the baby in the next 6 weeks. Good thing he has a Superdad cape (No I’m just kidding about that, but maybe I should make him one?!) Biggest thing I have to say is thank you to all of you. When I have moments of pure fear or weakness, I pray and remember that all of you are standing in the gap for me- literally and figuratively. Thank you. I don’t know how we’d get through this season without you all. I’m so grateful for the support and I know the Lord is using this in my life. In the end I’m going to be able to say to my patients, “When God doesn’t move the mountain we are praying for Him to move- you just have to trust.” After all He is a good God and He cares. More importantly, He has a perfect plan. (Romans 8:28.)
I will end with a verse a dear friend sent me on the morning of my surgery. 1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks to be to God. He gives you the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4-18-16: HOME AT LAST!
It feels like a hurricane. It’s almost like when you went to summer camp as a child- a week goes by full of so many events. Your mind can’t possibly keep all of them and when you go to recall them, it’s only a few that standout. That’s how I feel about last week. I can honestly sit back and reflect now that I am out of the hospital and am returning to normal life. So many crazy things happened and there is so much to be thankful for, but yet I’m not sure I even remember all of it!
I woke up from surgery without an ostomy bag! They weren’t expecting one, but I’ve been around medicine long enough to know sometimes expectations and reality aren’t the same. I felt super grateful when my husband showed up at my bedside and said everything looked perfect. My ovaries and uterus all looked normal and they saw no spots of cancer anywhere in my abdomen. Praise the Lord! It was a huge sigh of relief and what I needed to carry me through the next 2 weeks of waiting for the pathology. Now, I know a lot of the doctors in my hospital but I promise I didn’t ask for an expedited pathology review. I was in utter shock when Saturday morning they mentioned my pathology had been signed out. The sweet resident opened it and let me read it myself. There it was! The miracle I needed. No cancer found in the colon and 0/18 LNs positive. No granulomas seen in the specimen either. Essentially it read stone cold NORMAL!!!!!!! How excited was I to finally be normal?! I couldn’t stop the tears of joy! My mom was at my bedside and she had no words. I just kept mumbling “I’m going to live, I’m going to live.” Yes most of you had prayed for this and knew it to be true. But you have to understand I was prepared to walk whatever journey the Lord wanted me to walk. When you’re in the business of a Holy life instead of a happy life, sometimes the outcome is not the happy ending you dream of. I knew that this journey was to bring someone closer to God and I didn’t know what that may mean for me. So to hear that for now at least, my treatment is complete, was a true blessing. God had answered my (and so many others’) prayers.
I still have long recovery ahead of me. Remember my first surgical wounds hadn’t even fully healed before they created a bunch of new ones. I am still teaching myself how to eat again and struggling with every meal to keep down food. I’m off all narcotic pain medications and thus am learning how to return to “normal life.” I’ll meet with my oncologist soon to review all the pathology. The guidelines for my rare cancer are very nonspecific. This is mostly because it’s so rare and also not usually found in young people. There are probably places that would advise chemotherapy in all cases. But there are other places that would say since I had Stage 1 cancer found incidentally that really isn’t needed. I will defer the decision to my oncologist (I know he’ll solicit many more opinions as well!). His general thinking pattern was along the lines of have the surgery and then if nothing else is found, you are done! I have great peace in my heart that this was the end of this battle for me!
I still have a life ahead of me full of blood tests and CT scans to monitor for the cancer coming back. However, I can honestly say the odds are truly in my favor being that it was caught so early. God literally saved my life. My appendicitis triggered a life-saving surgery. My tumor didn’t even block the main duct that drains the appendix. It was truly an incidental God-led finding. How blessed am I that God would intervene in such a magnificent way?! I could not even begin to explain to you how GRATEFUL I feel to the Lord for this miracle. I of all people, know that everyday people do not receive the amazing news that I was given. I know everyday people have loved ones that die of the very disease that I was spared. It’s not fair and to be honest, I do not understand it all. For now, I just have to rejoice in what I know- which is that there is a God that loves me and that for now wants me around! I am truly grateful for the cancer journey I have had. Yes I’ve lost sleep and weight. And yes I’ve vomited more in one week than most people do in 10 years. But in the end I have been given a small glimpse into what my own patients walk through. You can never fully understand the word “cancer” until someone says you have it. I know I’ll be a better oncologist because of all of this. It has dramatically shaken my foundation. It has reminded me of the “Rock” on which I stand- which is Christ. The life I have after all is not my own. It is His. I pray that this is the end of my cancer journey. That no chemo is needed and I can live a long life with my family. However if the Lord has other plans, then I will get my hiking boots ready and prepare to cling to the only “Rock” in which I know will last.
Finally- I have to say thank you for all the encouragement and kind words lately. I do not know how Brandon and I would’ve made it last week without so many of you. Our sweet son was never affected and had loving care throughout the entire week. We are so blessed and we love all of you so much. It is through your prayers that I am healed, out of the hospital and retuning to my calling of helping others! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
JOY IN THE TRIAL 4/21/2016
James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
This verse has been playing in my head over the last few days. It has been a crazy 2 years. I’ve been through a few big trials, much bigger than I’ve ever faced before. I definitely would say the “trials of many kinds” fits me well this year. I love the end of this verse because it shows the promise in all of these trials, that my faith produces perseverance and this helps to make me more mature and complete. I also know this to be true. Before this 2 years, my biggest trial was honestly surviving residency and medical school (no small feat for those of you who are working the 80 hours, trust me!) But miscarriage and illness have broken down new walls in my life. They have taught me the value of a loving, faithful husband whose faith never waivers. They have brought me my perfect little baby, who honestly I love more than I could ever put into words. They have taught me the value of family support and the amazing gift of having family in driving distance. They have taught me that life is just not the happy Disney storybook ending I used to cling to. I now see that wonderful loving couples that would be incredible parents struggle with painful infertility. I now see that incredible brilliant, strong women who love the Lord and who make a difference still die of cancer. I now see that the nicest people in the world sometimes get handed the worst deck of cards in this life. But yet I still believe God is good. I know it to be true. I have seen His hand in so many miracles. I have seen Him grant a baby to the infertile, provide hope where there wasn’t any, and even heal me of cancer. I have seen him answer small prayers in miraculous ways.
Yet this trial continues to teach me things. I also have been learning that sometimes we just don’t bounce back like we think we should. For example in both of my previous abdominal surgeries this year, I was walking 3 miles by day 7! I am day 7 today from my hemicolectomy surgery and there is no sign of me walking 3 miles. I’ll be lucky if I’m up walking for 30 minutes. It frustrates me to be down and on my back again. Most of you know I’m a busybody and have 10,000 things going on in one week. Suddenly I have 2 goals for the day, eat and take my medicine and have enough energy to spend quality time with my son. That’s just the life God has given me right now and I’m trying to accept it and not fight it. I know this downtime will help my spiritual maturity and help me in the long run. But right now it just seems to be a major inconvenience. After all we are moving next week and getting ready to start a summer full of adventure. Moving from the house into a condo since it sold so quickly, then buying a new house in a new city and then starting 2 brand new jobs. Both Brandon and I have been blessed to find dream jobs in our new city of Jacksonville. (Yes it’s true I am officially the newest radiation oncologist to be joining Baptist MD Anderson in Jacksonville!!) We are beyond excited to begin this new journey and grateful our incredible nanny is going to remain the same. Yet with all the excitement we never paused to think about health. What if one of us got sick? And yet worse- what if one of us could not lift a single box? So yes- some of you may be thinking that is the perfect way to move (when you can’t help!) But for me I feel like a major let-down to my husband and my son. I’m now paralyzed from helping move boxes and putting my son in his crib. 6 weeks of no lifting and strict healing. 6 weeks! It feels like forever. And yet again, I have to rely on friends and family to help us get through this move. Again I have to be humbled and ask for help. It’s a teachable moment and one that I know the Lord is using to shape my life.
For those of you who have been by our sides through all of this, thank you. The dinners have been extremely helpful and a blessing beyond words! A big thank you to my friend Jen who not only thought of the dinner website idea, but also drove over an hour to bring us home cooked meals. The support and generosity of our friends has truly astounded me. I do not deserve the incredible family and friends the Lord has given me. Most of the time I feel like a horrible friend, and the grace people have shown me is beyond words. People continue to ask me how they can help. Here is a link to the dinner website if you want to help. It is honestly a blessing beyond words for us right now as moving and surviving are our top priorities. http://www.takethemameal.com/meals.php?t=DLJL7159 My husband is working extremely hard to sustain our family right now and the fact that he is well-fed means the world to me. He has only missed 1 day of work in all of this and is such a sweet father. He never complains of the nights when our son just decides to wake up in the middle of the night. He never complains when I am not feeling well and just needing to rest. He is incredible. No other way of putting it. God sent me my better half for sure when He sent me B!
I am learning to consider it “pure joy” when I face these trials now. I feel blessed to be on the other end of surgery. It helps that I happen to have the cutest little baby cheering me on every day. The past is behind me and my future seems so promising. The lessons I have learned will for sure strengthen me and prepare me to help walk my patients through these very same journeys. The Lord is truly making me into the doctor He wants me to be. I sometimes try to imagine the day just 2 weeks ago in which I was told I had cancer. It seems so surreal. Sometimes I question- was it real? And yet, somehow I have already walked through a cancer journey and am out on the other side! It’s an exciting time and one that for sure will be not be forgotten. In the meantime, I have to learn rest and rejuvenation, trust and sovereignty. I have to learn today truly has enough worries of its own to even begin thinking about tomorrow. I am grateful for the blessing of today, for the journey I am embarking on and for a God that has never left my side. He has answered our prayers and literally kept peace in my heart through this entire trial. He is refining my faith. He is giving me joy and my continued prayer is that He be glorified. I end with a verse that is my prayer for the day. I Peter 1:6-7, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
4/28/16: Faith over Fear
Today I went back in for my post-operative visit from my recent hemi-colectomy and nodal dissection. It was a very strange feeling. I walked through the same double doors and into the very same surgical lobby that I had a month ago. Again I was by myself for what would seem a very quick post-operative check. However this time, I was keenly aware of my surroundings. This time I noticed every cancer patient in my surgical oncology waiting area. I saw some with drains, and some with NG tubes (tubes down their noses). I saw others adjusting their ostomy bags and others without hair. I saw some so sick that they were still carrying the designated ‘vomit bucket’ that humbles you when you are an abdominal surgical patient. I teared up a bit. I knew I probably should have brought someone with me, but after all I’m a doctor. I should be able to go to a doctor’s appointment by myself. It was just a reminder of how tough my patients are and how gracious the Lord has been to me because He knows I could not deal well with an NG tube or an ostomy bag.
Thankfully today wasn’t an unexpected hurricane like my last post-op visit. This time I walked out with clean pathology and staple free wounds (hallelujah!) My surgical oncologist once again reassured me that all the pathology was clean, and turned me over to my medical oncologist. My medical oncologist has already told me he doesn’t think I need chemo! Praise the Lord. We are waiting for a few other big cancer institutions to give us their opinions. It’s such a rare disease and it can be so aggressive. The guidelines are so vague and thus I think the more opinions the better. After all if I was my own patient, I’d totally recommend a second opinion. There aren’t many 31 year olds that have my pathology report. However, I finally found one article that talks about the impact of this lettering score on my type of cancer. The letter “A” does the best and some small studies even report they believe it can be 90% survival if pathology is designated the letter A, 60% survival if letter B and 20% if letter C. Who knew a grade could literally determine my chance of survival? Of course that was my first question when they re-reviewed my path. What grade was it? Let’s face it- I have been a straight A kid all my life. My dad used to joke he would pay me for “B” grades because they would make me more normal! But this was one grade that I had absolutely nothing to do with and was completely out of my control. One grade that could literally tell me how many years I get to laugh and play with my son. And thank God for His grace because He gave me an A on my pathology report!!! Best “A” I’ve ever received and one I know I definitely did not deserve.
So what this all means for me is my road to recovery now turns into my survivorship. As long as the other institutions agree with us, I am done with my cancer journey and I learn to return to normal life. That is probably one of the biggest struggles that I am still walking through. Choosing faith over fear every day. Our pastor gave a great sermon on this exact topic on Sunday and it was the first Sunday I felt strong enough to go to church. Perfect timing! He talked about how when you are in a trial, fear is focusing on your circumstances whereas faith is focusing on God. It’s all about where your eyes and heart are directed. For me this is key. I have to daily surrender my fears to the Lord and trade them for faith. The hardest thing for me is knowing if at any point the cancer came back in my peritoneum (abdomen), it would pretty much be game over. My chemotherapy would be just to give me more months, not years. And yet that fear could cripple me. That is not what God wants for me and let’s face it- that’s not the life I want either. My goal is to share hope with all those who may run a similar race. To remind them to trust when they can’t see the outcome, to remain hopeful even if God doesn’t move their mountain or part their red sea (yes this again is the Lauren Daigle song which I love so much). After all Hebrews 11 says, “ Now Faith is confidence of what we HOPE for and ASSURANCE of what we do not see.” So I’m praying for more faith to replace the fear every day.
I know I am going to be nervous every single cancer follow-up appointment I have for the rest of my life. But I also know that the Lord can provide peace and strength to help conquer these nerves. He already has proved this. I was able to go into a surgery 2 weeks ago with a smile on my face. I knew that I could wake up with a literal death sentence if they found more nodules in my peritoneum. But I was smiling because I had 1000 people praying for me and a God literally fighting for my heart and my life. I was smiling because I had a God that loved me so much He gave His son for my life. No matter what- my suffering would be temporary and I would be Healed on one side or the other (heaven). It was an infectious smile and one I hope He continues to give me as I journey through my career! And after all if I can’t learn to overcome fear, how can I counsel patients who are in my clinic going through the very same thing?! I now know the anxiety they feel in the waiting room, or in waiting for their blood work or the results of the scans. I get it! I’m right there with them now. But I am confident that the Lord has a long future for me (what I HOPE for), and I am ASSURED that He has not left my side. The daily promises of scripture now are what I use to calm my fears. Every day I gain a little more confidence and give up a little more fear for faith. Every day I see the Lord working in my heart and in my life.
Just the other night my son decided to play hide and go seek with me. He’s into this really cute phase where he pulls the blanket over his head and waits for you to say, “Where did bubba go?” Then after a while he will reveal his face with a big smile. I will say “Oh there he is,” and he will start laughing. This particular night I got to laughing so hard with him. He’s so rolly-polly and has so much personality that it just became comical. I found myself overwhelmed with joy, happiness and gratitude. I snuggled really close to him and said, “Son- you are my miracle.” He looked up at me with his perfect blue eyes and grabbed my face in a pretty gentle way for a boy. It was like he understood me and was like “I know momma and I’m glad you’re going to be okay.” It was this perfect moment of grace, joy and peace beyond all comprehension. My son does not have the slightest idea what his mom and dad have been through. But yet his smile means more to me now that it could have ever before. Because it reminds me that God loved me so much that He knew I would need a perfect little baby to help me get through this season. He sent me my baby at the exact time in which I needed joy and laughter the most. He sent me a visible reminder of His love for me and His plans to give me a future. What a blessing. I cannot explain the love I feel for my son. I know that is exactly what God is saying to me. Julie- I cannot explain the love I feel for you. I hate that you are having to walk this. It was never my intended plan, but it is now part of your beautiful story. It is now going to bring me glory and change lives in ways you will never understand. Amen. That is my prayer. Please join me in this prayer- that my story of Hope would not be about me. That my story of Hope would encourage someone and change someone’s life. That my story of Hope will be one of a powerful and perfect God who never lets go.
Liver lesions: two words, both starting with the same letter. I didn’t share about these a month ago when I learned of them honestly because I didn’t believe they were there. My 6 week post-op scan looked so good in terms of my colon, that my oncologist kept harping on the fact that I should focus on that. He said we should do the MRI of the liver to be safe and he told me they were likely vascular changes or hemangiomas (benign tumors). In order to move on from the tough life I had been walking, I refused to hear the bad news and focused on the good. No cancer was seen anywhere else and my colon looked awesome! However, this week my primary care doctor released the CT scan report to me. I read the concern of these liver lesions. I tried not to panic. I did the only thing I knew to do- ask you all for prayer and turn to the only one who can save me at this point- God!
I had the MRI last night. I had a sweet friend that showed up right before they took me back. She was there when they told me they don’t allow you to play music anymore. That was going to be my lifeline during the MRI. Christian music to remind me to trust in the Lord. But since they didn’t allow that anymore (apparently interferes with images they said), she reminded me I only had one other option: prayer. 1 hour of no music and solid prayer time. I prayed for my friends, my future and my family. I prayed fervently that the Lord would give me the years to watch my son change the world and that He would allow me to be healthy in those years. I clung to so many verses. One of my awesome friends sent this one to me, “For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you Isaiah 41: 13.” I replayed this verse over and over in the loud MRI machine. I honestly didn’t believe there was any way these lesions could be anything but vascular or benign hemangiomas.
Let’s face it. It’s been a sad week for all of us. Between massive murder and an alligator snatching a child, way too many moms have buried their children this week. My heart has been sad. And today was no different for me. Today was rough. In my quiet time I knew the Lord was preparing my heart for bad news. My husband calls me a “debby-downer” because I’m always thinking worst case scenario. I keep reminding him I’m an oncologist- I see the worst case scenarios on a daily basis. I’ve seen way too many 20 and 30 year olds die of cancer. More than I’d ever want to see.
I got the call from my oncologist around lunch. I knew something was concerning when he both texted and emailed me to call him. I was with my cousin Gail and my son- thank God. I took the news fairly well. He explained to me that 2 radiologists had reviewed my scans and they were just not sure what to make of these lesions. They did not feel they were vascular and they did not appear like benign hemangiomas. They felt that because they were new and had changed in size, they were worrisome for cancer. My oncologist reassured me the chance that they were actually metastases was still really small, but that they read the report as possible metastases. The next step was PET scan +/- liver biopsy. I had no other real choice- we are now committed to finding out what these stupid liver lesions are.
I got off the phone and made some calls. I called my mentor and one of my best friends who is also an oncologist. She went over everything with me again. I broke down crying. How could this be? I had stage I disease and now there’s a chance I have metastatic disease (stage IV). It just was too much for me to process. I started bawling on the phone as I was watching my son fall asleep in his carseat. I desperately wanted to wake him up but I knew that seeing me cry was not going to be good for him. I sat there in my car (pulled over) and just cried. I literally was saying, “Lord please not yet. I’m not ready to go.” The sky suddenly opened up and it started raining really hard. For a few minutes I watched the rain and listened to God. Somehow I felt the rain was God crying with me. He was weeping with me. I know that this all breaks God’s heart as well. I know that He never intended for this and He doesn’t want me to have to suffer or be heartbroken. Somehow the rain provided the comfort I needed as it reminded me that God has not left my side.
My husband immediately left work and my cousin drove me and the baby home. I am here now typing this (and still in disbelief). PET scan will be next week along with probably the liver biopsy. Again I am right back into the cancer journey. I so badly wanted to post a 6 week blog saying, “Look I’m a survivor!” Instead I reminded I’m still in the middle of the storm, rain pouring down on me. My life now in question. The best part is this is not a surprise to God. My life is still in His hands and He still has a plan for me. For now my hope is in my Healer. I have no other choice. Even if it’s metastatic disease, I know He can still heal me. He will be my story- no matter what it is.
So that’s where I’m at. Please join me in prayer that these lesions are still benign. Please join me in prayer that I have a long life ahead of me. Pray for my family as now they are all living this as well. We are tired and worn down honestly. It’s been a tough storm- graduating, moving, work, boards, and cancer. All with a little very mobile baby J (who by the way is the best gift in all of this)! I could not be more blessed to be his mom. Every day that I get to be his mom I kiss his forehead and am grateful for the unconditional love he gives me. It reminds me of the love my heavenly father has for me. Thank you all for your prayers and continued support.
The Roller Coaster 6-20-16
It’s Monday. The dust has settled from my crazy news last week and here is where I stand. After a long discussion with my oncologist along with multiple radiologists, the consensus was that these liver lesions are concerning. Thus, the plan is I will have both PET CT Scan and a liver biopsy to figure out what they are. What are the chances these spots are metastatic cancer? I honestly can say I do not know. Based on the literature of my very rare pathology, I would say very low (and most of my oncology friends who have read the papers agree). If you ask radiology, they would say a lot higher based on what they see on the scans. Nevertheless, cancer does what it wants to and frequently does not follow the rules of logic. It is always one thing I say to my patients when they ask me- why didn’t it show up in my lymph nodes before it went to my lungs or liver? “I have no idea why cancer cells behave the sporadic way they do, but it’s an unfortunate part of the disease.” And many of you have asked what exactly would this mean? Well, in my very honest oncologist voice- I have to admit that if these liver lesions are cancerous spots- I will need endless prayer. So while the chance is small, it is a deadly reality for me. My life would be on a very short clock with months to live, unless the Lord gave me a miracle. The median survival of patients with metastases with my disease is 18 months- and that is with chemo, surgery and everything thrown their way (which of course is what I would do). I would fight for every last month on this earth to spend with my husband and my son. Hopefully, this discussion goes away after these tests. Hopefully, I never have to relive these moments of uncertainty again.
And in God’s perfect timing, this Sunday we visited a new church here in Jacksonville. It was wonderful and the pastor gave a lesson on the “good life,” which he described as a life walking with the Lord. He used an analogy of a roller coaster and described how he took his son on a pitch black roller coaster for the first time. He described how his son clung to him at every drop and turn, and how his son had the look of pure terror on his face during the ride. The pastor described how he was holding onto his son as well, promising to not let anything bad happen to him. I feel my cancer journey can honestly be described just like this roller coaster. There have been moments where the drop has looked so big or felt so scary, that I had that pit in my stomach. Yet, I had my heavenly Father sitting next to me and holding me tight through the entire thing. And then it would resolve and I would take a sigh of relief just to feel the ground drop out on me again. That is my life these past few months. A lot of scary turns and drops. Not sure what is coming next and for sure not knowing how I will react. But the entire time, I have known my heavenly Father has been holding me. And for sure I know I will eventually get off of this roller coaster and be all smiles of relief. He has given me that promise and I know it to be true. This whole roller coaster of cancer has definitely taught me to search for the girl I want to be. It has taught me my life is not my own and the only thing I am to do is smile, keep my head up, hold my Father next to me, and breathe. The beauty is I will look back at this roller coaster and honestly wonder why I was so afraid. I know the Lord is going to carry me through all of this. I know He will be faithful. I do not know what the rest of the track may look like, but I know WHO made my track.
You see when I became a Christian, I knew one thing. The God I was choosing was worth it all. I didn’t know how hard it would be or that I wouldn’t get a “pass” on suffering. But I had experienced enough of the presence of God to know that He would make it all worth it. I knew His love for me ran deeper than anything else I had ever experienced. After all, He gave His only son for me. That is love I cannot fathom.
So yes this is a storm, and yes it is raining. But as one of my friends reminded me- It always stops raining. And better yet, I happen to intimately know the “Guy” who can make the rain stop! It reminds me of one of my favorite verses. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:30-31
I pray that through all of this my heart for the Lord shines through. I pray that I survive so that I can be there for my cancer patients in ways honestly I never dreamed of. It is kind of amazing that the Lord has been taking me through this journey. Test after test, I will completely be able to share with my patients in ways that other doctors may never understand. Hopefully it is going to help someone- I have been in your shoes. I know what you are feeling. I know it’s scary, but you will make it through.
The Lord is going to use me and I just pray it is through my time on this earth. I want to be one life that matters. One life that comforts, shines and embraces others in the midst of their deepest suffering. Another verse our pastor shared on Sunday, “ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV. The Lord is comforting me in this trial to prepare me to comfort those I serve. What a beautiful opportunity. Lord, please do not let me waste it. Please use me in ways I cannot imagine to help love those who need your love. That is my prayer.
Now that I have poured out my heart, I again ask you for your prayers. My liver biopsy is Thursday and my PET scan is Friday. I will again wait a few days for the results. I probably won’t hear until Monday or Tuesday. It provides a very long weekend of waiting and my husband and I will likely do everything we can to get our minds off of it. Please pray the lesions are benign and that they are confident they actually got tissue out of them. Please pray that this can close this chapter of my life so I can focus on my life. I desperately want to return to my normal life as a wife, a mom and a friend. I’m sick of doctors’ appointments and tests, and I’d really like to pass my boards in 3 weeks. We appreciate all the encouragement and support. Being on social media, this has meant we have over 1000 people on their hands and knees for us. We have felt that love and constant prayer and it has carried us. We cannot thank you enough.
Lastly, I am thankful my son is so young that he doesn’t really understand. He occasionally sees my tears and tries to wipe them, but then 30 seconds later he is trying to make me laugh or snuggling on my shoulder. He is my joy in the midst of this storm and a gift I cannot thank God enough for. He is one of the many reasons I love my life and refuse to believe it is being taken from me. The Lord has carried me this far, He is not giving up on me now.
“In the eye of the storm” 6-24-2016
Well it is Friday. I am on my way in for my PET Scan today. Many of you were wondering how the liver biopsy went, so I thought I’d update you this way. I apologize I’m not able to call/text all of you back. Your love and outreach is super appreciated, but at the end of the day when I have a moment to breathe- I try to spend the time soaking up baby snuggles and sweet words from my husband. I hope you can understand that and give me a little friend grace! So many of you have blessed me in ways I can never repay.
Yesterday, I went to Gainesville for my liver biopsy. I had the most wonderful incredible team of doctors. A lot of them knew me and I could see the heaviness in their eyes and hearts as they talked to me. I swear every person is checking for this pathology report- in hopes this will be good news. It was a long morning. My parents and my husband prayed over me before they took me back. They gave me a trial of pain medicine to see if I could handle sedation. Unfortunately, I am such a light weight that the pain medicine made me sleepy. And they didn’t want me asleep. So I got the unfortunate news I was going to do this without sedation, just pain relief. I took a sigh of relief and tried to replay every bible verse I knew. It was a wake-up call that I need to commit more scripture to memory asap. I’m in the middle of a war, and it is my battle gear!
Once they started the procedure, I told myself not to be a wimp. It took me squeezing the life out of my pillow not to cry. The needle insertion itself wasn’t bad, but they had difficulty with the biopsies. Finally, after a few rounds they loaded me up with more pain medication and they almost abandoned the procedure. The radiologist was so sweet. She was worried about how uncomfortable I was. She asked me if I could keep going. My insides wanted to say no, but all of your prayer helped me be brave. I said yes with a smile and we proceeded. After a few hours, I was finally returned to my family for observation. I sat in the hospital gown and bed for a few hours. It was all too familiar for me. Hospital time is something I am all too familiar with now. I was feeling tired and honestly worn down. Lord- I thought, when will this end? The first thing I told my mom was, “Wow my patients are tough. None of them have ever complained to me about that procedure and I have ordered it 1000 times.”
And just like so many other times- the Lord spoke to me through a song. “In the eye of the storm, you remain may in control. You alone are the anchor when the sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm. When my hopes and dreams are far from me, and I’m running out of faith. And I see the future I picture, slowly fade away. And when the tears of pain and heartache are falling down my face, I find my peace in Jesus name.”
Today, is a scary day for me. I go for the PET scan. The reality that I may get a call about my pathology today. The reality that I may be handed a journey that could take away a long future with my son. The reality I may be handed a terminal sentence. I pray for strength to make it through the day. I pray for courage to continue to walking this walk. I pray for joy in the midst of the storm. I have to be brave. I have to fight. I have to focus my thoughts on life and not death, on hope and not fear. I have to surrender my life, my future and my dreams. Today could be a turning point for me. Good or bad- I pray I stand up tall. I pray my tears aren’t wasted and that someone sees God in all of this. If just one person comes to know the love of God through this, it will all be worth it. Every scar on my abdomen will be worth it. If my son someday comes to know Jesus through all of this, I would do it over 1000 times. That is my prayer. I know Christians have gotten a lot of bad press lately (and trust me we deserve a lot of it). But please don’t look to me or other Christians. Look at our perfect God who loves us despite all of our imperfections. Look at our God who is faithful and carries us through good and bad times. Look at our God who is able to use terrible situations for beautiful outcomes. Look at our God who weeps when we weep. He is good and He never fails us. And better yet His love never runs dry. It is for all of us and for all of our imperfections.
So again I plead you to pray for me. Pray the pathology gets expedited and that they give me good news today. Pray that I am able to stand firm in my faith and trust the Lord with whatever lies ahead. Thank you again for your prayers and encouragement. They have allowed me to rest at night, they carried me through the biopsy, and they will get me through the next few days.
“My 7 Scar Miracle” 6-29-16
It was Friday afternoon. I had returned from my PET CT scan and was waiting patiently for the results. My oncologist said he had talked to the pathologist and they felt they were going to be able to give path results by the late afternoon (which is definitely super quick!). That was wonderful news for me as I wouldn’t have to wait all weekend for the results. The hours dragged on. The first result he texted me was a negative PET CT Scan. Praise God- one victory down! Now the most important one- (since my type of cancer rarely shows up on PET scan) the biopsy results. My stomach dropped when I saw his call. Why was he calling? He only had ever called with bad news. Before when I had gotten good news, he would just email me or text me. I almost didn’t answer out of fear. My sweet friend was at the house and she handed me the baby. I told her it was time for the results. She had a nervous look on her face as well. I bravely answered the phone and the first sentence out of his mouth was, “Okay breathe, there is no cancer.” I immediately started crying and shaking. I barely understood the rest of what he said, because I was so excited. He went on about the results and how the pathologists were still trying to figure out what kind of benign vascular tumor or lesion they were. But all they knew was that for sure they were benign. No cancer cells were seen. I did not have metastatic disease (STAGE IV). PRAISE THE LORD. I got off the phone and called my husband. We cried on the phone together as we knew the MIRACLE that the Lord had given us!!!!! No chemo, no surgery and most importantly a good prognosis with only early STAGE cancer!
I swear all of your prayers were heard. So many of you pleaded for the Lord for my life and HE HEARD YOU! If you would’ve really asked me, I really felt from the beginning that I was going to have to walk through chemo. It was a peace I had that it was going to be part of my journey and that God was going to battle for my life. So trust me I was praying for God to spare of me of that journey as well.
I was honestly in SHOCK when I got the news. LIFE, LIFE, LIFE. That’s all I could think of. Every time I picked up my son it was the most incredible feeling to know I would see him play sports (I mean have you seen my child?) He is destined for football with those thighs and his strength! And I don’t want to miss him changing the world. I want to be there for every moment of it all. My husband kept saying, “Thank God I don’t have to move in with your parents!” That was his plan if I died lol. I know sad to admit, but we had joked and talked about it all. How many 30 year olds have a will? Well, we do because I have walked through a life-threatening illness. But the good news is God has saved my life!! Literally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I feel this great new sense of purpose for my life and can’t help but feel that He must have big plans for me. Please don’t wait for something like this to shake your foundation and make each day worthwhile. Live as if today is your last and dream big. God has big plans for your life. I believe it and I know it to be true!
This weekend I removed the bandages from my liver biopsy incisions. They were small and nothing compared to my other surgical wounds. However, I could not help but count all the scars as I looked in the mirror. 7 scars. I now have 7 scars decorating my abdomen! How neat. For those of you who may not be aware, 7 is traditionally thought to be referred to as God’s number in the Bible. So I decided these are my 7 miracle scars that God used to save MY LIFE! They are His testimony that the battle of my life was in His hands. I know the real scars that saved my life are the nail scars in Jesus’s hands and feet. Those are the scars that bought me grace and eternal life. Those are the scars that gave me a gift I didn’t deserve (eternal life despite all my mess-ups in life!). Those are the scars that will get me into heaven, not my own. Yet, I will always appreciate my 7 surgical scars. They will always be MY battle wounds. It will literally daily remind me that MY LIFE matters and that it was not easy. I was given a gift, a miracle really.
To be honest, I feel a little bit of guilt though. Why me God? Why did you spare me when so many others have such difficult journeys? Why did I get the happy ending? I don’t have all the answers. It doesn’t seem fair. But for now, I am focusing on the facts. I have been given life and I am going to make the MOST of it! I have to dream big and make a DIFFERENCE for the Lord now! Bottom line- end of story!
Now my cancer journey isn’t quite over. I have continuous scans and bloodwork every few months for the next 10 years. I have lifelong follow up. However, for now I have a reprieve for a few months. I can breathe again and trust the Lord with each day until the next set of scans. I am trusting Him that it won’t come back. It is the reality in which I have to live for now- the present and the hopeful future.
This will likely be my last blog for a while. I ask that you please continue to pray for protection over my life and for my family. Pray that the cancer never comes back. Pray that I pass my boards in 2 weeks!!! Pray for rest. My husband and I are emotionally tired! Pray that this journey blesses others and helps me in my oncology practice. Your prayers clearly matter and I cannot thank you enough! You are my spiritual family near and far. You have restored my faith in friendship. You have reminded me of the incredible blessing it is to have a body of believers by your side. Many of you have literally lived my burden with me and prayed me for all day and night. Many of you shed tears when I cried, and rejoiced when I rejoiced! Your prayers carried me through one of the toughest weeks (and maybe even years) of my life. Your prayers carried my sweet husband and rock solid parents through as well. The constant encouragement and support kept us alive and well!! We cannot thank you enough! We can only hope to be there for you in similar ways that you provided for us! So thank you, thank you, thank you. Share my story with as many as you can. After all, if it helps just ONE person it was worth it all! Finally, I end with the lyrics that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. A song by Big Daddy Weave, “If I told you my story…”
“If I told you my story,
You would hear Hope that wouldn't let go
And if I told you my story,
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story,
You would hear Life, but it wasn't mine
If I should speak then let it be,
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins,
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him.
If I told you my story,
You would hear victory over the enemy
And if I told you my story,
You would hear freedom that was won for me
And if I told you my story,
You would hear Life overcome the grave!
Exactly One Year Later. When the Oceans Rise……
Here is it is. The big day! Exactly one year later from the day I originally had my emergency appendectomy and God miraculously saved my life. If you don’t know my whole testimony up to this point, I encourage you to watch the video I posted above. I gave that testimony back in November after I had my first 6 month CT scan that came out cancer free. I wish I could say this year has been all roses ever since I was cleared of the “liver mets” scare. However, it has been a difficult year. While my oncologist had initially decided I could “keep” my ovaries and uterus, it was just a temporary decision. The consensus among my colleagues was that they needed to come out for sure, but that if I wanted another child- that they could wait to remove them until after this. So, we immediately began very intensive fertility treatment. I didn’t share this part because it was a hard journey. I did not want others questioning why I was “rushing” into a second child. I knew it was our only chance. And both my husband and I felt that we were supposed to try for that second child. However, right before Christmas we got the news that I would probably not be having that second child. It was devastating. We had gone down nearly every road in the medical world (except IVF- which we had decided up front not to do). We are now at a point that short of a God given-miracle, our son will likely be our only biological child. The reality now hitting me that this year truly has been the hardest year of my life. From being told you have cancer to now you are infertile- it has been difficult. I have found myself on my knees and in tears more times than I would like to admit.
And while I wish I was putting up a ‘happy celebratory’ blog, the reality is I am not. The waters have begun to rise again. My feet suddenly have been swept out from under me all in the matter of two weeks. I wish I had time to call each one of you and tell you all that we are going through, but I simply just do not have the time. I am trying to focus on being the best oncologist for my patients, the best wife for my husband, the best mom for my son and most importantly the best daughter for my Heavenly Father. So please forgive me if you are finding out this news this way. I just do not have the heart to make 1000 phone calls, but yet each of you mean the world to me. Your prayers have carried me this far and I know they will not stop now.
Before I share with you my current wave- I just have to share what I wrote literally 2 weeks ago when I was out in Houston MD Anderson for training. It explains how the Lord has been carefully working in my life preparing me for today. “As I was walking back from the cancer center to my hotel today, I passed a young couple. However, the wife was in a wheelchair and the husband was pushing her along. She had no hair and was wearing a protective mask over her mouth- the classic “costume” of a chemo patient. Unfortunately, it is not really a costume- it is the reality of a very tough road to walk. As I passed this young girl, I smiled at her. I admired her courage for holding her head up high amid a situation where most would only glare at the floor. And then it hit me- the harsh reality that if God had not spared my life a year ago, I could be that girl. I could be in that wheelchair with an abdominal port in place, with no hair, being pushed around by my husband because I was too weak to walk from chemotherapy. That could’ve been me. That still could be me in the future (although I pray that is never the case). I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. Guilt- that I was walking around healthy while that girl was fighting for her life. Disbelief- that I myself have been in her shoes in some way. And then the overwhelming gratitude to the Lord for sparing me of that journey. Instead of being a patient out here at Houston MDA, I am a training here to be a better oncologist. Think about that for a minute. I have gone from one side of the bedside to the other. It is hard to go back. I never really will. To say that I will only be the doctor will never be true. I will always consider myself a patient first now over the role of a doctor. I have to! I cannot forget the journey the Lord allowed me to walk, to bring me to the place I am today. I would not be here without it. I would not be the same without all those sleepless nights where I rocked my son to sleep because I didn’t want to put him down. All those days where I prayed fervently that my liver lesions were not in fact cancer, so that I could watch my son walk into kindergarten or more importantly choose to follow Jesus. I cannot and will not go back. I may not be in the wheelchair now, but I will not forget. I will not forget that God saved my life. That God gave me a few months to spend with just my son while I recovered from surgery. I was there when he took his first steps, said his first 2 words, began putting himself to sleep. I was there because I had cancer which froze time and helped me see every moment as a gift.”
I wrote that exactly 2 days before my CT scan 2 weeks ago. I came home from Houston with a renewed gratitude for what the Lord had spared me from! Now that I am a cancer survivor- I have to do CT scans and blood work every few months. It is just something all of us cancer patients have to do for years on end. I went in for my routine CT scan not thinking anything of it. I literally was so NOT worried about it, that I apparently forgot to tell my husband or parents I was even having one. So, when I called them hours later asking for prayer- they were like what scan? I knew something was wrong when my oncologist (who is just one office over) called me and asked me if I had a few minutes. He didn’t sound worried, but said they had found a hilar lymph node on my CT scan (for those non-medical hilar is a LN region between the heart and lungs). He said it was probably nothing to worry about, but that it was worth reviewing my outside imaging to compare. Once they did that, we all realized it had grown (slowly but surely over almost 2 years). It was definitely larger now. It still didn’t really seem to make sense though. My type of cancer usually comes back in the abdomen or liver, not the lung region. However, after MANY oncologists (the benefit of working in the field) looked at my scan, the consensus was a PET scan would be the next best step. I had that last Thursday. Again- a little bit in denial, I didn’t share it with many people. I fully believed these lymph nodes were just reactive (normal inflammatory or infectious response). I told my husband however I felt it was important to tell our new small group at church, and I am so glad we did. We instantly began feeling joy knowing others were carrying our burden and praying for us. The PET scan didn’t really help answer the question of cancer versus no cancer. I was really hoping it would. I was hoping it would come back completely negative and I would be in the clear. However, my oncologist called that afternoon and sounded much more worried. This time, he did not ask me what I would like to do- this time he just told me it was best to biopsy the lymph nodes (yes now they are thinking a few of them), to be safe. The PET highlighted a few more than the plain CT scan. So here I go again. Going in for a bronchoscopy (they stick a long tube down your throat and biopsy the nodes through ultrasound) on Friday. Don’t worry they will put me to sleep, so I will not have to suffer this misery. But the crazy thing is I order bronchoscopies every day and now I am having one. For all of you who are praying for me to become a better doctor- please stop 😊. How many more procedures do I have to endure? I am just kidding of course. This journey is NOTHING compared to what some go through.
And while the oceans may rise, my feet will not fail. Why? Because I will call upon the name of the Lord and keep my eyes focused above the waves. Yes- if you have heard this song by Hillsong- you know exactly what I am talking about. It is that every calming presence of the Lord amidst a drowning sea of waves. I feel like that. While the waters maybe rising around me, my heart is calm. I am daily choosing faith over fear. I am daily trusting the Lord will not fail me now. I have too much to do. Too many people to help. Too many patients to share hope with. I cannot let go of my faith now. I refuse to believe the Lord has brought me this far to let me go now. But the reality is I will do whatever it takes to allow my life to be a living testimony to others. If that means chemo- then so be it. If that takes more surgery- then so be it. I know the Lord can use whatever He has in my path to show his light and His hope. I know He will not let me drown. I know choosing Him is worth it. And honestly the beauty of knowing the Lord is that you really do have this incredible peace in any storm. My feet may fail, but my soul rests in Him. I have come across so many verses lately that have grown my faith. My favorite one came today Ephesians 6:10- “Finally be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” I am still seeing patients and caring for them daily. I want my life to be a living testimony of the Lord’s power to allow me to help others even when I don’t have my own health or strength. And Lord even if you do not move my mountain- I will trust in you. Even if you do not calm my storm- I will trust in you. This is my prayer.
So that being said- if you have a minute to spare, please pray for me. Pray that these lymph nodes do not have any cancer in them. Pray that the procedure goes smoothly without any complications and that I handle the anesthesia well. Pray for my family who has to walk this hard road of waiting and watching. The days waiting for the pathology results are the hardest. Pray for my son that he will have his mom around for many years to come. Pray for my strength to continue sharing to my patients and all those around me. Let my faith over fear be my testimony. Let my story of Hope be heard by thousands so that others will come to know the Lord! Let me live so that I have years to tell of God’s miraculous works in my life!
3/19/17- CANCER FREE
As many of you can imagine, it was a crazy week in our household. Between both of us working full time with patients who count on us, and other obligations we had already committed to- we did not stop to breathe. We kept busy at a rat-race pace this week and focused on serving others, so that we did not have time to stop and think about the reality of Friday’s biopsy. I had one moment of true weakness where I started rattling off my to-do list if the biopsy returned positive- where I wanted to go for chemo, how I wanted to spend the last months of my life, how I wanted my parents and husband to move forward after my death. They all stopped me mid-sentence and rattled off some inspiring Bible verse. They all did it at once! It was pretty hilarious- like a sunday school competition for who could quote the most scripture. But it forced me to laugh, drop the topic and focus on the other hand at task (which right now for me is studying for oral boards in 8 weeks and preparing my house for a wedding next weekend).
Friday morning, I woke up and honestly had true peace. I know it was from all of your prayers. I knew everything was going to be fine. All the complications from the bronchoscopy and biopsy they had rattled off to me, collapsed lung, bleed, infection etc., did not even enter my mind. I was a bit confused when I woke up and my whole family was already dressed at 530 AM. Apparently, no one other than me (and my son thankfully) had been able to sleep that night. My parents and husband had been up for hours praying for me. It was a sweet reminder of the incredible life in which I have been given and do not deserve. Some people never hear their parents say I love you, and yet I have had parents that have committed to pray for me every day of my life. I have a husband that is a true Godly man- one that has not left my side.
I told my mom driving into the hospital that I was really feeling very grateful. Glad that cancer was a part of my story, glad that the Lord had chosen to use me. She had tears in her eyes (no surprise if you know my sweet mom). I told her it was something I learned from my best friend Ashleigh who passed away of breast cancer not even 2 years ago. Ashleigh taught me many things- but most of all she truly taught me about joy in the storm. She taught me how to laugh when there seemed to be nothing to be happy about, and to hope when it seemed like everyone else had given up. She taught me the true value of following the Lord even when the circumstances around you do not go as planned. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I am truly grateful for this trial as I do think it matured my faith. I do think I can honestly say I found “joy” in it. Do not get me wrong. It was not a pleasant storm, and no- I do not wish it on anyone. Not the procedure, not the scans and not the fear of a phone call that could lead to chemotherapy and premature death. But knowing the Lord was with me and holding my head above the water was truly a reminder of his love and grace. Those of you who have walked through trials and tribulations know exactly what I mean. When everything else fades away, when you do not think your heart can ache any more- suddenly you just know it is all going to be okay. You just know that the Lord is going to carry you through. I am not sure how to put it into words. It is better than any “feeling.” It is like a supernatural gust of wind that comes over your soul and warms your heart. God is just that magnificent. After all- He created the heavens, the earth. Of course, He can breathe life into you and give you eternal hope. He wants to. He doesn’t have to do it through trials. He can do that everyday if you let Him. Unfortunately, I seem to only have those moments of clarity when He gets me flat on my back- for a scan, an illness or a surgery. But with each trial, I am reminded it is the daily journey that the Lord wants me focused on. Not the quarterly or the yearly wakeup call- the daily one. There are patients to help in my clinic tomorrow, friends I need to lift-up and encourage, and a child that has been granted to me to raise to know this wonderful Father. I am one life, but each day I have been given is a day I am here for a reason. God is apparently not done with me yet. That is too important of a call to forget. I hope that by me writing all of this it also reminds you the same is also true for you. Do not let cancer or the death of a loved one be your wake-up call to make the most of everyday. Do not miss a day that the Lord has given you breath to make a difference and change a life. It sounds cliché, but it is true. None of us are here by accident.
I really wish this could be my last blog- my sayonara. The reality my cancer journey is here to stay. For 10 years- I will be watched very closely, and honestly probably will have to face these fears in the future when I go in for all my scans and appointments. I know both of my oncologists (UF/MDA) want me to have another large surgery (removal of my uterus and ovaries). I have a weird genetic mutation and no one can really tell me what it means. However- I cannot fathom any more abdominal surgeries at the moment. (I have had 3 in 19 months- the age of my son!) It is just a small price to pay for life however, and I will take it if I never have to do chemotherapy (which in my disease does not really work- it just adds months to your life). The beauty of today is I have been given another miracle. Today, I stand no evidence of disease. Thank God for amazing pathologists who did not make me wait a week. No cancer anywhere!!! I cannot even write that without goosebumps and gratitude beyond words to the Lord. My dreams at this point are simple- see my son walk into his kindergarten class, be present for the declaration of his own faith in Jesus and even dance with him at his wedding. I dream of grey hair and dancing with my husband in a ballroom in our 80s. I dream of writing a book and sharing my story with all that may listen- so that others will come to know Jesus. Not just the person we talk about in church on Easter and Christmas, but the incredible God who literally saved my life and my soul. The God who has healed me and allowed me to continue my dream of walking others through their own cancer journeys. The God who loves me despite all my mistakes and all my insecurities. The God who sent His only son to die for me and for you.
In ALL things….7/27/17
Romans 8:28. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.
This is a story that God has weaved together beautifully. I am going to tell it from the beginning so you can see the miracle of His hand in it all. Most of you know that last year I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. In a very stressful series of events, one of the most pressing decisions I had to make was rather or not to give up my ovaries. 50% of women with my type of cancer end up with disease in their ovaries. Thus the recommendation in most guideline papers is to have an oophorectomy at the time of the hemicolectomy. However, most patients with my disease are in their mid 50s, and thus giving up their ovaries does not have child bearing complications. Giving up your ovaries in your 30s obviously does. And while I pushed hard for my gyn onc, med onc and surgeon to agree to take them- they all felt very nervous about doing this. After all, my son was only 9 months old. They kept saying, “You may want more children some day!” They were my friends and I know they were struggling with the medical decision just as much as I was. I kept arguing- but I want to live more! So the morning of my surgery, we all decided on the following plan. If my ovaries looked suspicious for cancer, they would remove them along with the colon I was planning to have resected. However, if they looked fine they were going to leave them in place, with the plan that I would consider stimulating eggs or having another baby quickly before having them removed in another operation in a year or so. It seemed like a fair plan and one that made everyone feel comfortable. So in the surgical recovery area, one of my first questions to my husband was obviously- Did they see any peritoneal implants or other signs of cancer? My second question- are my ovaries gone? To find out that both answers were no was a bit overwhelming. Tears of joy. I remember my mom in recovery saying I just know God’s going to give you more children. My mom later shared she was having a really hard time with it all. She knew I would probably struggle later if my ovaries were gone for a number of reasons. No more children would be a hard reality, but then going through menopause in my early 30s. Again- I could not process any of this because at the time I was not even sure I would get to see my son turn two years old. I simply wanted to live.
So then a month after my hemicolectomy, I met with a fertility doctor at UF. She understood the situation well and had been debriefed. She knew things had to happen quickly and at this point I was willing to agree. So fertility treatments began. Except they did not seem to be working. Month after month my fertility doctor would look perplexed- why aren’t your ovaries working? It was discouraging to say the least. Months of drugs, shots, ultrasounds and no results. It was wearing on me. Especially since it was a silent struggle. IVF was not an option for me due the cancer. Fertility battles are the worst. If you have a friend going through one, please hug them and bring them dinner. Sit there and listen to them vent and cry. It is a painful, lonely journey. I had a sweet baby to snuggle with every night, and I still found myself crying at the appointments. It seemed so crazy. All these doctors fought to save my ovaries, and yet they saved nonfunctioning ovaries. It did not seem to make sense. Right before Christmas, they told me I likely was suffering premature ovarian failure and should probably stop fertility treatments. The chances of me having another child, they said, were close to zero. My husband didn’t believe it and it was a pill I was having a hard time swallowing. Finally after months of fertility treatment, in February of this year, I stopped it all. I had had enough. I was sick of all the disappointing appointments. It was back to adoption. My husband and I both were on board with this plan, however finding an adoption agency that will take our application was not that simple. It turns out having cancer excludes you from adopting from most agencies until you are 10 years cancer free. Aiden would be 10 years of age before another sibling. It was a very harsh reality and just another bump in the road. However, with oral boards in May and a cancer scare in march (with those pet positive lymph nodes in my chest), my husband and I decided we were going to just focus on gratitude. We started daily praying about all the miracles God had already given us: Aiden, cancer found early, liver nodules that were benign, lymph nodes that were sarcoidosis and not full of cancer, a chance at life, a wonderful dental practice, a great job for me, a new home in Jax and a wonderful church. It was a shift in our thought process, but it was an essential one. It helped take the frustration off our fertility failures and focus back on the plan God had for our family. We were both finally settling in our jobs and enjoying every moment with our sweet child. We are now big into making family memories and doing fun things together. Yes this is one reason we live at Disney!! No one has to remind us life is short. I watched one of my best friends die of horrible breast cancer at 30. I see it every day. Cancer steals grey hair out of way too many people. And I pray I live to see grey hair. But if I don’t, my prayer is people will say I was someone who gave every day she had the best shot at life, the best opportunity to serve my God. I want to be remembered for choosing faith over fear.
And so you can imagine the shock I felt when I puked the morning before my oral boards. Nerves I thought in my head. Nerves are getting the best of me. The most stressful testing day of my academic career. I do not wish to think about my rad onc oral boards ever again. They were brutal. The hours I poured into studying and the hours I gave up with my son to study for that exam were depressing. I poured what little energy I had left after work and motherhood into studying. My husband said after I told him about the vomiting before my test, “I bet you’re pregnant.” I laughed. My response- “My ovaries have not worked in a year- they are sure not going to start 2 weeks before the most stressful exam of my life.” And yet all the more glory to God- the miracle worker, the giver of life. As I sit here and type I am now 13 weeks pregnant. Yes in the same week that I discovered I had passed my boards and NEVER had to test again, I also learned God had given Aiden a sibling. A miracle baby. Tears do not describe our joy. Finally, after all these storms, the Lord provided a rainbow at the end- a sweet little baby. My fertility doctor’s first question to me was- did you do treatment somewhere else? I laughed. No this was all God! She could not believe I conceived 2 weeks before my boards without any fertility intervention. It makes no medical sense. But again- God always wants ALL the credit- so to me it makes perfect sense. This child was His plan all along. From day 1 of my life- God had this child in mind to give me and Brandon. It is overwhelming to think about. He orchestrated every event to make sure it happened in His way and in His timing. He pushed those doctors to save my ovaries. He knew it was all a part of His plan.
So once again I ask for prayer. Pregnancy and cancer do not get along. My OB gave my husband and I an hour long lecture about the risks of the immunosuppression of pregnancy reactivating cancer. She scared us well. I looked back at her and said simply, “I cannot worry about that. God gave me this child. I do not think He would give me this baby and a belly full of cancer.” And you know what- honestly if the cancer comes back- it is going to be okay. Because in the end- He works ALL things for the good of those who love Him. This child is a part of His plan and I am just going to enjoy every minute God gives me here on this earth to be a wife, mom, physician, friend and daughter. So thank you for your prayers. It means more than you know. Pray for both the baby and my health. Pray for no more suspicious spots on scans. I cannot imagine the feeling of worrying about cancer with a sweet child growing inside my belly. I cannot let my mind go there. For now I am focusing on the blessings God has given me. He is a good God and He will not let me down. His plan is a perfect one and I am just along for the beautiful ride.
And how special is this- I had planned a big family celebration next week. I planned it to celebrate two things- #1: to celebrate my son turning 2 and #2: to celebrate my 1 year of being cancer free. I do not want to forget the blessing God has given me- another year of life. I do not want to miss out on the fact that I am getting to see my own child turn 2. These are all miracles! Things I watch my own patients fail to see. The neatest part of the whole thing is that I will get to share the gender of this second child as a surprise gender reveal with my family on this big celebration day. If you would have told me that 6 months ago when I decided to have the party, I would have said you are crazy. Yet that is how good God is. He is giving me the party of all parties, birthday, cancer-free and a new life and gender reveal. WOW!!!! So stay tuned for some very exciting news in the very near future. For all of those traveling to come celebrate with me- thank you. For all of those who wish to be there and cannot, thank you for your prayers. To all of you whom I could not invite due to sheer numbers and having a giant family, thank you as well. So many of you are the reason I am alive and well today. God works in ALL things. Do not forget this. If God is doing it in my life, He is doing it in yours!
3/3/2020- THE STORY OF MY DAUGHTER!
Wow I have not updated my blog in nearly 2.5 years. So much has happened since then, I delivered my 2nd son and blessing Carson into the world in 2018. What a miracle he is, and what a perfect fit he is to our family. He is like a little Brandon running around the house, and he just has my heart. He is smart, sweet and so funny. He runs into walls just to make you laugh. He and his older brother Aiden are just best buddies and honestly they bless me in ways I never imagined. Of course as a cancer patient, I have been getting my routine CTs and PET scans and had been doing well. In March of 2019 (nearly 3 years from diagnosis)- They found a mass in my breast and also in my thymus on my PET scan. I immediately had a breast mammogram, US and biopsy which thankfully all returned benign. No one could figure out the mass in my thymus and why it had uptake on PET scan, so I just jumped on a plan to MDA Houston in Houston and saw the head of the neuroendocrine cancer department out there as well as an incredible CT surgeon. They agreed it was a mystery and had a chance of being benign or being malignant. They gave me the option of removing it or watching it closely. It was too dangerous to biopsy sitting right on my heart. So my husband and I had a big decision and gathered a ton of extra opinions. At the end of the day the MDA tumor boards and most of my doctors here agreed probably not smart to leave something in me that could be harboring cancer so close to my critical organs. Not to mention the stories of my high school classmates who have also been getting weird cancers and passing away so young. I knew it was big surgery, but I also knew that God had everything planned out. So on Easter weekend in 2019- I had a robotic thymectomy and a 6.7 cm mass removed from my chest. It ended up being thymic hyperplasia which is benign, but as my surgeon in Houston said, thank goodness it’s out. He did not like the way it looked and was super glad we were not going to watch it transform into anything else. God was good and we survived that storm!
2019 also brought us a great big surprise- the news of a 3rd pregnancy. No fertility treatments, just a sweet miracle from the Lord. My son Aiden had been praying for a sister ever since he attended VBS in June and learned you could pray and ask God for thing. So 2 months later when I tested positive for pregnancy I kind of chuckled and thought wow! Aiden wanted a sister so badly and I was nervous I may break his heart with another brother. When I first showed him the ultrasound picture and explained mommy was having another baby, he said mom that’s my sister God sent us! I said well Aiden we don’t know the gender yet and he responded, “Mom I talk to God. That is my sister.” I just love his sweet heart and wouldn’t you know that he was right. God had answered his and daddy’s prayers and sent us a little girl. It was almost too much joy for my heart to handle. It was honestly the fulfillment of a dream I had many years ago after I lost my first pregnancy (I had a disheartening miscarriage in 2015). I don’t have time to type out the whole story but some time if you want to meet for coffee, I will gladly share it with you. However our sweet little girl has not been easy to grow. I have had by far the roughest pregnancy yet with vomiting pretty much consistently through month 7, and now even through month 9. I have been fatigued, and at times very weak. It has been a challenge to work, raise the boys and keep myself healthy during this pregnancy. But the Lord has sustained me and reminded me many times over that my problems were not real problems. After all one of my best friends from high school was battling horrific stage IV breast cancer which led her to even become paralyzed at the end of her life. Yet she did not lose her faith, her joy or her strength and she encouraged me to seek the Lord for all my days on this earth. She was a daily reminder of how short life can be, and how quickly our lives can be stripped from us. My friend recently passed and will never get to hold my daughter, and while that breaks my heart I am grateful now more than ever that she is with the Lord and no longer suffering.
In terms of my cancer, I must admit that I am a bit nervous about my upcoming delivery. I felt I needed to write this blog post in order to be honest and gather my prayer warriors. About half way through my pregnancy I began having blood in my urine. It seemed odd and despite normal workup, no one could find an answer except that I had this dangerous placenta previa that could be theoretically growing into my bladder causing a placenta accreta. Placenta accretas can be life threatening due to maternal bleeding so they put me on all sorts of restrictions, everything short of bedrest thankfully. They made me tour the NICU, see tons of specialists and prepared me for an early delivery. The plan all along was that at 31 weeks I would have an MRI that would show if the placenta had grown into the bladder wall or not. I assure you that there is nothing worse than telling an MD that they may have a life threatining condition, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to know for sure. In the midst of all of that however, through church and some incredible friends, I gave it all over to God. I realized I could do nothing about it and that my life was back in the Lord’s hands again, which is honestly where it belongs. I have peace that surpasses all understanding and I know that is only because I surrendered it all to the Lord. So 31 weeks comes along and I have this highly anticipated MRI. I immediately see my phone ringing from multiple doctors (never a good sign), and the news I receive is well we didn’t find a placenta accrete, but the radiologist does see a lesion at the top of your bladder. Great I think. What in the world does that mean? Being that I’m an oncologist, a rad onc at that, I had to see the images for myself. I ran up to radiology and began looking at them. There it was a 13 mm lesion. It is a mystery to the radiologist and while they will not call it a mass, they call it a lesion. One that needs cystoscopy and likely biopsy. Awesome I think to myself. I would have actually preferred placenta accrete to possible cancer, but at this point I really am confident that the Lord is in control. I honestly have felt very calm and at peace that whatever it is the Lord already knows and has already provided for it. Unfortunately my symptoms have worsened and it is now time for delivery. Thankfully my sweet little girl will be nearly full term and has been doing great despite my poor nutritional status. Thankfully God has brought together the most incredible team to do this operation and deliver my baby. I literally get to have one of my best friends in there as my gyn onc, my sweet and incredible OB friend, my urologic oncologist who makes me laugh, and my favorite anesthesiologist. Every single one God appointed to come and be a part of my daughter’s birth. So there you have it. I’m going to a csection with cystoscopy, may have a hysterectomy plus/minus BSO, plus even possible bladder resection all in one day. Should be exciting. It will be happening soon and I covet all of your prayers. Specifically please pray that the lesion in my bladder is just vascular, benign and nothing concerning. Please pray they do not find any cancer in my belly- if they do it would be stage IV (a met), and we all know how that would go. Please pray that my daughter arrives safely and does NOT need the NICU! These would all be miracles and things I will thank God for daily for years to come.
I have been reminded lately to soak in scripture so I’m going to end with one of my favorites- John 16:33- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I am so grateful for the promises of the Lord. No matter what happens, I must trust that God is in control and that what He has planned works out for good! None of this was a surprise to Him and He has planned for this miracle little girl long before I knew of her. I am sure he has not brought me this far to let me down now! Thank you for your prayers during this difficult season and don’t worry there will be LOTS of pink, sparkle and bows filling your news-feed soon as we welcome our sweet daughter into the world!